On Monday, 43 different Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and other religiously affiliated organizations filed a dozen different federal lawsuits against the Obama administration in response to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that religious institutions are required to cover contraception in employee health plans.
President Obama’s announcement in January that he would uphold the mandate sparked a public fight with the Catholic Church over its constitutionality, even with the inclusion of a “conscience clause,” which would exempt churches from following the law. The church framed the fight as an issue of religious freedom rather than about contraception itself by saying that the First Amendment protected religious institutions from providing a service that violates their religious beliefs.
The Diocese of Washington, one of the filers in the suit, says “the Church maintains that the First Amendment protects the Catholic Church's ability to serve the public in accordance with its faith and to operate its religious institutions without government interference.” It argues that while churches themselves are exempt from providing birth control to employees free of charge, “religious schools, hospitals, and social services don't qualify as religious, and must therefore provide these drugs and procedures.” The suit claims this violates the First Amendment because it prevents the affiliated organizations from exercising their religious freedom not to fund contraceptive services they are morally and religiously opposed to.
As Mary Kate Cary notes, this issue is not going away. She also points out how closely Americans followed the battle, and how a slim majority believe all religious institutions should be covered under the exemption, suggesting the issue could be tricky for Obama in the upcoming election.
The mandate begins to take effect either August 1, 2012 or August 1, 2013, depending on the institution. The Obama administration has requested that the suits be dismissed for lack of the standing, because the mandate hasn’t yet taken affect. The court has yet to issue any ruling.
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